Mon, May 29, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Taitung museum draws visitors with skin-eating fish

By Chang Tsun-wei  /  STAFF REPORTER

Spas will no longer have to just rely on the healing power of hot spring waters. The National Taitung Oceanarium (國立台東海洋生物展覽館) has introduced small "hot spring fish" -- which eat dead skin and the bacteria in wounds -- as part of its exhibits.

As visitors put their hands in the water, the fish gather around the hand to eat, creating a comfortable tingling sensation.

The oceanarium's director, Chang Jen-mou (張仁謀), said that other names for hot spring fish are "Turkish algae eater" and "doctor fish."

The fish is commonly found in freshwater hot springs in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, Chang said.

The fish has been used to treat skin diseases such as athlete's foot and erysipelas for more than 100 years.

According to Chang, the fish can grow to about 6cm in length and can live in water with temperatures as high as 36 degrees Celsius, although the most suitable temperature range is 25 degrees Celsius to 35 degrees Celsius.

The fish is easy to keep as it eats small animals and plants. Hundreds of them are often kept in the pools by hot spring owners in the region so that they will nibble away at the dead skin cells and bacteria around wounds on people taking a bath.

The Taitung Oceanarium has set up a hot water pool with several dozen hot spring fish in the entrance hall, and the exhibit has attracted many visitors.

Many people don't dare put their hands in the water at first, but once they do, they discover that the fish nibbling at the fingers is almost like a slight electrical sensation.

Chang also said that hot spring operators in Chihpen (知本) in Taitung County are planning to introduce the fish together with medicinal herbs in their pools in the hope that people with skin diseases will also be able to enjoy the pleasure of a hot spring bath.

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